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Finding disability data

Understanding disability statistics

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Current Population Survey (CPS)

Sponsoring agency and purpose of the survey

The Current Population Survey is a monthly longitudinal survey conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Its purpose is to provide information on the labor force characteristics of the U.S. population. The CPS provide estimates of employment, unemployment, earnings, hours of work, and other indicators.

In March of each year, a supplement called the Annual Demographic Supplement is added to the basic CPS. This is the part of the CPS that is of most interest to disability statistics researchers. The March supplement collects data on work experience, income, non-cash benefits, and migration, as well as basic monthly demographic and labor force data.

Who is included in the survey

The basic monthly CPS is a nationally representative sample of the civilian non-institutionalized, resident population of the U.S. The March supplement also includes members of the armed forces residing with their families in civilian housing or on military bases.

How often the survey is done

The CPS is a monthly panel survey that includes about 50,000 households each month. The sample includes eight panels, with a new panel brought into rotation each month. In each panel, households are interviewed once a month for four months in a row, and again for the same four calendar months of the following year.

How the survey is conducted

For the first month's interview, the interviewer visits the address selected for the survey to determine if a responsible adult will provide the necessary information. If someone at the address agrees to an interview, the interviewer uses a laptop computer to conduct the interview. Interviewees in each household are asked to provide information about themselves and other household members age 16 or older.

The fifth interview is also done in person most of the time. Interviews in the other six months are done by telephone.

Sampling strategy

The CPS uses a complex stratified sampling technique that identifies 754 geographic sample areas and then selects clusters of housing units within each area. Of the approximately 70,000 housing units selected each month, about 60,000 are occupied and eligible for interview. Of these, about 7.5% are not interviewed because of absence, refusal to cooperate, inability to respond, or unavailability.

This sampling strategy results in a monthly sample of about 50,000 households. Information is obtained each month for about 112,000 individuals age 16 or older.

Survey content

The basic monthly CPS asks respondents about employment, unemployment, earnings, hours of work, housing characteristics, and demographic characteristics.

The March supplement covers more detailed information about earnings and hours of work, other sources of income, and savings and investments. It also covers participation in food stamps, school lunch programs, health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, CHAMPUS or military health care, and energy assistance.

In other months, the CPS has administered supplements that cover specific topics in more detail. These have included employment-related topics such as:

Other supplements have covered:

Because CPS is a longitudinal survey, data from two different supplemental surveys administered to the same panel can be linked. The Disability Statistics Center linked the 1998 Computer and Internet Use Survey with the March 1999 supplement to yield information on Computer and Internet Use Among People with Disabilities.

How the survey measures disability

The March supplement uses a work limitation definition of disability, asking:

Q59a (Do you/Does anyone in this household) have a health problem or disability which prevents (you/them) from working or which limits the kind or amount of work (you/they) can do?

People whoare counted as having disabilities.


The basic monthly survey has no real measure of disability status. One of the CPS labor force categories, "disabled," identifies people who volunteer that disability is the reason that they are not in the labor force, and then state that they would be unable to take any kind of job during the coming six-month period.

Limitations of the data

The CPS has been widely criticized both for the lack of any real disability measure in the basic monthly survey and the March supplement's use of an unvalidated work disability measure, which limits the usefulness of the survey for employment analyses. People with disabilities that do not limit work are not included, nor are those who might otherwise be limited but have received accommodations that enable them to work without limitation.*


Methodology and documentation

Public use data files: Basic CPS and supplements

Data dictionary

Basic CPS: http://www.bls.census.gov/cps/bqestair.htm

Main CPS Web page

* References:

Hale, T. (2001). The lack of a disability measure in today's Current Population Survey. Monthly Labor Review, 124(6), 38-40.

Kaye, S. (2002). Improved employment opportunities for people with disabilities. San Francisco: Disability Statistics Center.